Photo Journal: An Italian family tradition – tomato sauce making day

There’s actually not all that much I want to write this morning; I’d rather the photos do the talking. Last weekend heralded our family’s annual tomato sauce making day at my grandparents’ house, something I’ve been meaning to capture on film for a few years now. As you may have notices from my blogging habit, recording memories is important to me, and I wanted to share some of the pictures I took to give others a bit of an insight into a centuries old Italian tradition that continues in the backyards of countless emigrants in Australia today…

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Cook this: “Check-every-bulb” Christmas cupcakes

We’ve all got Christmas traditions. Some are pretty normal, like our tradition of baking scones on Christmas morning before taking Marley to the park for a run around. Some are not so normal, like watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation over and over and over again (not my tradition, originally, but husband has converted me). I didn’t like the movie much at first. But year after year, it’s been screened at our house on the 1st of December, and then almost every night thereafter until Christmas. Now I actually love the stupid movie. I find myself reciting the lines along with cousin Eddie and Clark. Damnit.

Anyway, we had our first family Christmas even for the season on a few weekends ago, and I took up the dessert task. I found inspiration in the most unlikely of places – the scene where Clark needs Rusty’s help to unknot some Christmas lights. Pinterest gave me a good idea on how to put them together. And I added my own touch by giving a few cupcakes “knotted” lights. It made me laugh. Simple things, I know…

Anyway, they’re pretty easy to put together! For the cupcakes, use your favourite recipe; I went with a thick chocolate brownie mudcake concoction. Then for the frosting:

Ingredients:
– 120g white chocolate
– 4 tbsp milk
– 50g butter
– 3 cups icing sugar
– m&ms and black writing icing to decorate

Method:
1. Combine the chocolate, milk and butter in a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water, and stir witha wooden spoon until combined.

2. Remove fromthe heat amd cool for a few minutes, then sift in the icing sugar a cup at a time, beating with an electric mixer as you go, until you have a thick, smooth frosting.

3. Pipe or simply spread the frosting onto the cupcakes in a cone shape, and use a black writing icing pen/tube to swirl circles up each frosting cone. Pop m&ms in at intervals as the bulbs.

And that’s it! Super easy and very do-able 🙂 Nothing like a Pinterest win to get you into the Christmas spirit…

Cook this: Olive bread

Husband never used to like olives. Until he tried them again a while ago. And he discovered he actually did like them, a lot. He noticed a handsome looking olive loaf last weekend at a bakery we stopped for tea and coffee at, and requested I make a loaf; far be it for me to say no, so I threw together a quick easy loaf, and it turned out pretty darn good. Pretty easy to make, as well…

Ingredients (makes 1 loaf):
– 500g plain flour
– ½ tbsp salt
– ½ tbsp dried yeast
– 1 heaped tbsp dried rosemary
– 475ml warm water
– 1 cup pitted olives of choice – I used kalamata

 

Method:
1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast and rosemary in a large mixing bowl, then stir in the warm water. Once combined, mix in the olives.

2. Cover the mixing bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

3. When you’re ready to bake, take the dough out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature.

4. Preheat the oven to 220ºC, grease a loaf tin and place the dough into it (alternatively, line an oven tray with baking paper and shape the dough into a free form loaf). Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until baked through; the easiest way to test it while it’s still in the tin is to tap the bread – if it has a hollow sound, it should be baked through.


I’d highly recommend serving it fresh out of the oven, topped with prosciutto and fior di latte cheese. Amazing!

Cook this: Matcha & white chocolate muffins

I saw this recipe a few weeks ago on Matchaeologist’s Instagram page, and like so many others, saved it for later. I decided to make them (with a few small changes) for my turn of Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club last week, and they were delicious! I love the combination of matcha and white chocolate, and these make a nice change from the standard choc chip muffin, especially for a special breakfast with some fresh strawberries 🙂

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Ingredients (makes 12 small muffins):
– 1¼ cups plain flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 tsp matcha powder
– ½ cup white chocolate chips
– pinch of salt
– ⅓ cup caster sugar
– ⅓ cup vegetable oil, coconut oil, or melted butter
– ¾ cup warm milk (I used almond milk, which work really well)
– 1 tbsp white vinegar

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and line a 12-hole muffin tray with cupcake cases.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, matcha powder, choc chips and salt in a bowl, and set aside.

3. In a larger bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, milk and vinegar, until completely combined.

4. Add the dry ingredients into the wet, bit by bit, gently mixing with a wooden spoon as you go until it all comes together to a smooth batter.

5. Spoon the batter into the cases and bake 20 – 25 minutes, until just browned on top/they pass the skewer test.

6. Cool in tins, and enjoy!

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As you can see, mine came out quite dark, because the matcha powder I used was a darker colour. The type of matcha you use will affect the muffin colour – it won’t taste any different, just something to be aware of!

 

Cook this: 6 ingredient jam thumbprint cookies

Having grown up in a very Italian family, I love roasted chestnuts in winter. Nonno used to make them for us when we were kids, and I loved sitting at their dinner table, digging my little fingers in the split in the shell, peeling the charred layed off those golden little nuggets, and eating them until dad said I couldn’t have any more because I’d be sick. So, when I found St Dalfour at the Good Food and Wine Show a few weeks ago selling chestnut jam, I got more than a little bit excited. I only bought one jar, and have been kicking myself ever since!


I’ve been using a spoonful of it to mix through my porridge, along with a handful of blueberries and a sprinkle of cacao nibs, but I wanted to make something sweet to eat with a cup of tea as it gets colder. I also wanted something quick and easy, that I could make whenever I wanted them without having to get changed out of my PJs to go buy ingredients for. Same base recipe as the lemon cookies I posted a few weeks ago, but the secret ingredient is absolutely the jam – find a way to get your hands on some!!

Ingredients:
– 100g butter, softened
– 100g caster sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 200g plain flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– St Dalfour chestnut jam!

 

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 170° and line an oven tray with baking paper.

2. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until thick and creamy, followed by the egg yolk until completely smooth and combined.

3. Stir in the flour and baking powder until combined.

4. Roll the dough into balls (about tablespoon size works well) and space them out on the oven tray.

5. As the recipe might imply, press your thumb into the centre of each cookie to make space for the jam, and drop a little jam in each thumbprint.

6. Bake for 15min, or until golden brown.

Cook this: Cacao nib & oat cookies (sugar, lactose & gluten free)

So, a flare up of stomach issues have necessitated a return to slightly stricter low-FODMAP regulations. Again. But that’s not as bad as it was the first time around – I know more know, and know what my body can and can’t deal with a little better.

I was browsing Instagram for recipe ideas the other week, and came across this gorgeous picture from @edgarraw – his Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. Ummmm yes please! I’m an oat addict, and an even bigger chocolate lover, so these looked pretty good even before I scrolled through to the recipe.

Once I got to the recipe, I also found it included other favourite ingredients of mine – cacao nibs, dried dates and almond milk. Despite the severe fructose intolerance, I actually stomach a little dried fruit (yay!), so while it might look like a LOT of dates in this recipe, remember it’s divided between the whole batch. This recipe is also sugar free, as the cookies get all their sweetness from the dates – basically makes them health food. I made some changes (as usual) and was stoked with the result! Here’s my version of Edgar’s cookies…

Ingredients:
– 1½ cups loosely packed dried dates
– ½ cup almond milk
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– ½ cup almond meal or gluten free plain flour
– ½ tsp baking powder
– 1 cup rolled oats
– ¼ cup flax seeds
– ¼ cup toasted cacao nibs
– ¼ cup shredded coconut

Method:
1. Soak the dates in super hot water for an hour.

2. After soaking, pre-heat the oven to 180°C and line an oven tray with non-stick baking paper.

3. In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients – the flour, baking powder, oats, flax seeds, cacao nibs and shredded coconut.

4. Drain the dates and place them in a food processor with the milk and vanilla extract. Blend until a paste comes together.

5. Spoon the paste mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well to combine completely. If it’s too dry, add a little water to help bring it all together.

6. Take tablespoons of the mixture and shape into balls, placing them on the oven tray with a little space in between.

7. Bake for 15 minutes, and cool on the tray. Enjoy!

A crash course in FODMAPs & cook this: poached egg in polenta & sugo

So, it’s been a frustrating year thus far, trying to work out what’s causing my stomach to hate me so much. After recently undergoing some blood tests and hydrogen breath tests, turns out we can confirm now that I’m not coeliac (although large amounts of gluten don’t really agree with me),  but I am lactose and fructose intolerant, which is apparently why my stomach has been hating me so much. Great. So what does that mean? A super exciting low FODMAP diet for the next few weeks, after which we try to reintroduce some of the stuff that’s currently a no-go. I won’t bore you with the details (Google “low FODMAPs” for more detailed info), but basically FODMAPs are molecules found in a lot of common foods we eat that aren’t digested properly, and then cause nasty digestive issues.  FODMAP stands for:
Fermentable
Oligosaccharides (eg. Fructans and Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS))
Disaccharides (eg. Lactose)
Monosaccharides (eg. excess Fructose)
and
Polyols (eg. Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Xylitol and Isomalt)

Great, but what the hell does that mean in real life? Basically, foods containing those guys are not my friend for the next few weeks. Not a whole lot of Ben & Jerry’s shenanigans over the next few weeks, then…

 

The OK to eat list includes:
GRAINS – gluten free everything – bread, pasta, flour etc, quinoa, rice, rice noodles, tapioca, corn thins, popcorn (yay!), oats (double yay!), polenta
VEGGIES – among a few others, red capsicums, bok choy, carrots, cucumber, zucchini, eggplant, ginger, tomato, lettuce, olives, parsnip, potato, spinach, the green tops of spring onions only
FRUITS – kiwi fruit, strawberries, oranges, pineapples, blueberries, rockmelon, limes, lemons, mandarins, passionfruit
DAIRY – lactose free milk and yoghurt (Liddell’s for me!), coconut milk, feta, mozzarella, Swiss, parmesan, brie, camembert cheeses
PROTEIN – chicken, beef, lamb, pork, fish, eggs, unprocessed meats
NUTS/SEEDS – anything but cashews and almonds really, in very small amounts (10 nuts or less)
OTHER – pure maple syrup, pure sugar/sucrose, dark chocolate (Lindt 85% for me!), raw cacao, salt/pepper, most oils, peanut butter, unsweetened coconut, herbs like cumin, paprika, coriander, basil, thyme, chives, parsley, rosemary, Nuttelex spread, small amounts of soy, fish and oyster sauces, some mayo/mustard (providing they don’t have any onion or garlic in the ingredients), tea (THANK GOD!), Massell stock cubes made without onion/garlic (SO happy I found these!)

Basically, not a heap of sauces/condiments/packaged stuff where the nasties are hidden – more plainly prepared stuff like grilled prawns (minus the garlic butter, unfortunately!), rice and simple steamed veggies. I’d be way happier in Thailand or Vietnam for the next 8 weeks, actually…

 

 

The not OK to eat list includes:
GRAINS – Gluten – regular bread and pasta, cous cous, barley, and pretty much all pre-packaged cakes, biscuits, crackers, pastries etc.
VEGGIES – garlic, onion, broccoli, cabbage, snow peas, mushrooms, cauliflower, celery, fennel, leeks
FRUITS – apples, pears, stone fruits, tinned fruit, concentrated fruit juices, dried fruits
DAIRY – cow’s milk, lactose products, buttermilk, ice cream, custard, cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta, sour cream
PROTEIN – sausages/processed meats (often have fructose products such as honey used in them, so check the ingredients!), all beans (kidney beans, black beans, etc), chickpeas, lentils, soy beans
NUTS/SEEDS – cashews, pistachios, large amounts of any other nuts/seeds
OTHER – honey, milk chocolate, molasses, regular stock cubes, relish, cocoa powder, teas that have fennel, dandelion or chamomile in them,  and anything that includes fructose, isomalt, high fructose corn syrup, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and sugar free drinks and sweets that have polyols (ingredients typically ending in -yol) in them…. how the hell I’m going to study nutritional labels for all this crap is beyond me…

 

Grey areas:
– Soy and almond milk are the ones that’ll impact me most – almonds and soy beans are technically on the NOT OK section for the low FODMAP diet, but I’m figuring a little soy milk in my tea will still be better that regular milk! Otherwise I’ll stick with Zymil milk I think. Tofu is another one on the maybe/maybe not list, for the same reason.
– In terms of veggies, broccoli, avocado, sweet potato, pumpkin and corn – small serves of a half cup or less are thought to maybe be ok, but no conclusive evidence is available at this stage either way.

Without going into too much detail, it’s not a life sentence; generally after 8 – 10 weeks of this, you’re encouraged to start re-introducing some of those FODMAPs, group by group, to see if you can include them into your diet again 🙂 What that means here is that you won’t be seeing a heap of my standard delicious naughty food on here (I’m not saying I may not have the occasional slip up – I’ll do my best but I am only human!), but instead some more gluten free, lactose free, fructose free, FODMAP friendly options for a few weeks! And I have no intention of eating chicken and rice every day for the next 2 months, so we’ll see how creative this can get!

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ANYWAY, enough of the education component of this post (I didn’t want to get into it too much, but I also didn’t want you guys to be wondering why there wasn’t a new burger every week on here!), let’s get to the food – gooey, runny yolked poached egg in a polenta and chunky sugo nest. Winter time comfort food. The perfect meal to end the week. Which I really, really needed last night after only 3 hours sleep Saturday night.

The polenta and sugo were pretty simple – I make them both pretty often. But, surprisingly, I’ve never done poached eggs before! How is this possible?! I have no idea! It really only just hit me when I vetoed frying the egg and couldn’t be bothered waiting long enough to do the baked egg thing. I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try,  and happily, it was no where near as difficult or scary as I thought it’d be!

So here’s your gluten free, lactose free, fructose free, low FODMAP, tummy friendly, blah blah blah winter warmer dinner of poached egg/s, polenta and sugo…

Ingredients (for 2):
Sugo:
– garlic infused olive oil
– 2 rashers bacon, diced
– 1 red capsicum, diced
– 2 heaped tbsp pitted, sliced black olives
– 3 ripe tomatoes, diced
– 1 cup plain tomato pasta sauce
– salt, pepper and dried basil
– 2 handfuls baby spinach leaves, torn

Polenta:
– 2 cups water with a sprinkle of salt
– ½ cup polenta/fine semolina
– 1 tbsp Nuttelex spread (or just regular butter if you’re not low FODMAPing)
– 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Eggs:
– as many eggs as you want
– pot of water
– 1 tbsp vinegar

Method:
1. Get the sugo started first – heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the bacon. Once the bacon starts to get a little colour, add the capsicum and cook over high heat until the capsicum starts to soften.

2. Next, add the olives, tomato, pasta sauce and as much salt, pepper and basil as you like to the pot. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Then mix the spinach through until it wilts and shrinks. You can set the sauce aside and re-heat it if need be just before serving.

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3. Get your pot of water and the little bit of vinegar for the eggs on the boil next – it needs to be a roaring, rolling boil before you even think about throwing those eggs in there. Crack as many eggs as you want into separate, small dishes and set them aside.

4. Finally, get the pot of water for the polenta on medium heat – bring it almost to the boil, turn the heat down and slowly add the polenta, whisking as you add it (if you dump it all in at once, it’ll be a lumpy mess). Once all the polenta is in, keep the heat on low and whisk continuously for 5-10 minutes, until you’re happy with the consistency – if it’s too thin for you, keep whisking over low heat to thicken it up, and if it’s too thick add a little more water. Add in the butter and cheese, whisk through, and again leave it to the side to re-heat if you need to before serving.

5. Now, those eggs. Water’s on a strong rolling boil, give it a stir with a spoon to create a little whirlpool in the centre, and slowly and carefully slide in the first egg. Set a timer for 2 minutes, try not to panic like I did at the messy trail of egg white that’s probably floating around in there (I don’t know how, but egg magic will bring it all together in the end), and remove your egg with a slotted spoon just before the timer hits the 2 minute mark – rest it on a paper towel-covered plate until you’re ready for it. Keep poaching your remaining eggs, one at a time.

6. Assembly is easy – polenta into the bowl first, lots of sugo next, and plonk your egg on top. Hopefully you saved a little parmesan to top it with, too! Enjoy 🙂

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And if there are any more low FODMAPers out there reading this, I’d LOVE to hear from you guys – let me know how you’re going with it all, any favourite dishes you have, any helpful tips and what not!